There is always a feeling of uncertainty in the air at the NHL Draft. It’s the feeling on whether a star will be born or just become a plain old bust. But for the New York Islanders and General Manager, “Mad” Mike Milbury, that feeling is just a little bit different. Rumors were swirling before the draft on whether Milbury would move up in the draft and try and take the first overall spot in the draft. The Islanders ended up standing pat in such a deep draft, and with the number 15 pick and three second round picks, the Islanders stocked up on some very talented players.
The Islanders welcomed six forwards and three defensemen to their organization:
1st Round, 15th Overall
Robert Nilsson (C/W)
5’11”, 183 lbs.
Born: January 10, 1985
Birthplace: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
2002-2003 Team: Leksand (Swedish Elite League)
2002-2003 Stats: 8 G, 13 A, 21 PTS, 10 PIM in 41 games
Ranked ninth out of all European skaters in the draft, and son of former NHL star, Kent Nilsson, Robert Nilsson opened up a lot of eyes this season with Leksand of the Swedish Elite League. He broke Vancouver Canucks star, Markus Naslund’s scoring record for points by a 17-year-old. Not even current NHL MVP, Peter Forsberg, was able to accomplish that feat. In fact, some have compared Nilsson to the Avalanche star. In 41 games, he recorded 21 points (8 goals and 13 assists), unheard of by a 17-year-old. Like his father, Nilsson is extremely talented offensively, has excellent puck-handling skills and is a tremendous playmaker.
2nd Round, 48th Overall
Dmitri Chernykh (RW)
6’1″, 170 lbs.
Born: February 22, 1985
Birthplace: Voskresenk, Russia
2002-2003 Team: Khimik (Russia)
2002-2003 Stats: 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS, 29 PIM in 29 games
Ranked fourth on the NHL Central Scouting Service for European skaters, Dmitri Chernykh was almost a steal in the second round. He is a strong player on special teams, notably on the powerplay. Chernykh is a very smooth skater that can amaze fans on a breakaway with his speed and one-on-one moves. Islanders European scout Anders Kallur said of Chernykh, “I was blown away by Chernykh still being available when we went in the second round. Our scouts and I have seen him a lot of times, and he gets better and better every time you see him.”
2nd Round, 53rd Overall
Evgeny Tunik (C)
6’2″, 198 lbs.
Born: November 17, 1984
Birthplace: Elektrosal, Russia
2002-2003 Team: Elektrosal (Russia)
2002-2003 Stats: 14 G, 10 A, 24 PTS, 24 PIM in 42 games
With the Islanders third pick in the draft, and second of the second round, the Islanders selected the big Elektrosal-native, Evgeny Tunik. Tunik could be compared to current Islander, Oleg Kvasha. He is a big man with a nice scoring touch, but he lacks in the use of his size and strength. He needs to learn how to use his body more and his size to his full potential. Once this is learned, Tunik could be a big-time player in the years to come.
2nd Round, 58th Overall
Jeremy Colliton (C)
6’2″, 195 lbs.
Born: April 16, 1985
Birthplace: Blackie, Alberta, Canada
2002-2003 Team: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
2002-2003 Stats: 20 G, 28 A, 48 PTS, 76 PIM, in 58 games
The Islanders continued drafting for size with their third pick in the second round with Jeremy Colliton. One aspect of Colliton’s game that stood out was his determination on every shift, much like current Islander Jason Blake. His consistent battling on every shift helped him finish third on the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders in regular season scoring with 20 goals and 48 points in 58 games. Team Canada has invited Colliton to their training camp for the Under-20 World Junior Championships next season.
4th Round, 120th Overall
Stefan Blaho (RW)
6’1″, 198 lbs.
Born: June 22, 1985
Birthplace: Trencin, Slovakia
2002-2003 Team: Trencin, Jr. (Slovakia Jr.)
2002-2003 Stats: 6 G, 5 A, 11 PTS, 50 PIM, in 17 games
Ranked 18th on the NHL Central Scouting Service for European skaters, Stefan Blaho is the type of player that would fit right in with the Islanders organization. With the Islanders recent emphasis in trying to develop a more physical game, the big 6’1″ Slovakian plays quite a different style than most skillful Europeans. Blaho is not afraid to drop the gloves, as he amassed an amazing 50 penalty minutes in only 17 games. Islanders scout Karel Pavlik said of Blaho, “He’s a strong forechecker, really likes to hit and get involved physically. He’s not afraid to go to the net hard and plays more of a North American style.” On June 26, Blaho was recently selected by the OHL Sudbury Wolves in the CHL Import Draft (1st Round, 45th Overall). This is a very good thing for Blaho, for if he chooses to leave his club in Trencin; he can develop in the Canadian Major Junior Circuit for the next few years, where he can play with players who have a similar style as him.
6th Round, 182nd Overall
Bruno Gervais (D)
6’0″, 188 lbs.
Born: October 3, 1984
Birthplace: Longueuil, Quebec, Canada
2002-2003 Team: Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
2002-2003 Stats: 22 G, 28 A, 50 PTS, 73 PIM in 72 games
The Islanders acquired an outstanding offensive-minded defenseman with their selection of Bruno Gervais. Not only does Gervais have the tremendous ability to put the puck in the net, he’s got tremendous character as well. Islanders Quebec talent scout Mario Saraceno said of Gervais, “Bruno was the captain of him team at [age] 18, and they had a good veteran club. He’s got terrific character and can hold his own in the defensive zone and one-on-one.” Gervais has the wonderful ability to make things happen on the ice, as he registered a +47 for the 2002-2003 season. He is also very useful on the powerplay as well, as 17 of his 22 goals came with the man advantage. Gervais has been invited to Team Canada’s training camp roster for the 2004 World Junior Championships.
7th Round, 212th Overall
Denis Rehak (D)
6’2″, 196 lbs.
Born: May 14, 1985
Birthplace: Trencin, Slovakia
2002-2003 Team: Trencin, Jr. (Slovakia Jr.)
2002-2003 Stats: 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, 6 PIM in 24 games
The Islanders decided to jump back into the Trencin, Jr. circuit as they drafted defenseman Denis Rehak as their seventh pick in the draft. Islanders scout Karel Pavlik said of Rehak, “He’s strong for his size and he likes to skate with the puck. He has the chance to be an offensive defenseman. He likes to start the play, carry the puck and makes a good first pass.” Like his Trencin, Jr. teammate, Stefan Blaho, Rehak was taken in the CHL Import Draft. The WHL Prince George Cougars took him 51st overall in the first round, which is where former Islanders Zdeno Chara and Eric Brewer played their junior hockey.
8th Round, 238th Overall
Cody Blanshan (D)
6’1″, 200 lbs.
Born: February 14, 1984
Birthplace: St. Paul, Minnesota
2002-2003 Team: University of Nebraska-Oklahoma (CCHA)
2002-2003 Stats: 0 G, 5 A, 5 PTS, 103 PIM in 38 games
Cody Blanshan is the type of player who isn’t afraid to rough it up on the ice. Over the course of 38 games, the big freshman from the University of Nebraska-Oklahoma amassed an astounding 103 penalty minutes. When asked about Blanshan, scout Brian Hunter says, “He’s a fearless-type player and a defensive defenseman. He’s always been always very tough coming through the ranks.” Expect Blanshan to play for the Islanders ECHL-affiliate in Trenton, because Blanshan announced that he will forego his remaining years with UNO and turn pro.
8th Round, 246th Overall
Igor Volkov (RW)
6’0″, 189 lbs.
Born: January 24, 1983
2002-2003 Team: Salavat Yulayev (Russian Super League)
2002-2003 Stats: 9 G, 5 A, 14 PTS, 30 PIM in 37 games
For the Islanders final pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, they selected right-wing Igor Volkov. Volkov is a solid two-way player and is very good skillful with his stick. The 20-year-old Volkov has held up well in the Russian Super League, compiling nine goals and five assists in 37 games. This is a good sign since most players in the Super League are much older than him.